Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Baghdad Brains Trust" Gives Mission Six More Months

An elite team of officers advising the US commander, General David Petraeus, in Baghdad has concluded that they have six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

The officers - combat veterans who are experts in counter-insurgency - are charged with implementing the "new way forward" strategy announced by George Bush on January 10. The plan includes a controversial "surge" of 21,500 additional American troops to establish security in the Iraqi capital and Anbar province.

But the team, known as the "Baghdad brains trust" and ensconced in the heavily fortified Green Zone, is struggling to overcome a range of entrenched problems in what has become a race against time, according to a former senior administration official familiar with their deliberations. ...

But the next six months are make-or-break for the US military and the Iraqi government. The main obstacles confronting Gen Petraeus's team are:

· Insufficient troops on the ground

· A "disintegrating" international coalition

· An anticipated increase in violence in the south as the British leave

· Morale problems as casualties rise

· A failure of political will in Washington and/or Baghdad.

"The scene is very tense," the former official said. "They are working round the clock. Endless cups of tea with the Iraqis. But they're still trying to figure out what's the plan. The president is expecting progress. But they're thinking, what does he mean? The plan is changing every minute, as all plans do."

The team is an unusual mix of combat experience and academic achievement. It includes Colonel Peter Mansoor, a former armoured division commander with a PhD in the history of infantry; Colonel HR McMaster, author of a well-known critique of Vietnam and a seasoned counter-insurgency operations chief; Lt-Col David Kilcullen, a seconded Australian officer and expert on Islamism; and Colonel Michael Meese, son of the former US attorney-general Edwin Meese, who was a member of the ill-fated Iraq Study Group.


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